LABOR’S push to cut greenhouse gas emissions through the use of energy efficiency schemes was yesterday dealt another blow when building industry heavyweights discredited the star ratings being applied to hundreds of thousands of homes.
Investigations by the building industry have found that the mandatory star ratings scheme is inaccurate and fundamentally flawed.
The Housing Industry Association and Master Builders Australia yesterday joined scientists in calling for urgent action by the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency to resolve problems that are potentially having an impact on more than 100,000 houses built each year.
They said owners were not aware that mandatory software tools — used to calculate whether a planned new house could achieve the minimum five-star energy efficiency rating necessary to obtain approval for construction — gave vastly different results for the same house under identical conditions.
It is another setback for the government while it is still trying to quell criticism after the shelving of its emissions trading scheme, the disintegration of the home insulation program and green loans scheme, and the subsequent findings that both were fatally flawed, costing lives and taxpayers’ money due to poor planning and execution.
It also comes after Labor’s latest environmental announcements — the 150-person citizens assembly to forge a national consensus on action on climate change and the cash-for-clunkers green car replacement scheme — were widely criticised.
Opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt said last night that the government could not get its environmental programs right.
"We saw that with pink batts, green loans and cancelled solar programs," Mr Hunt said.
"They need to explain why home owners and builders face this confusing and potentially costly mess.
"They should release all material on this to the public before the election."
Flaws in the star rating system emerged after industry bodies, private companies and scientists commissioned independent studies showing significant variations were being calculated by the three different software tools when tested on identical dwellings.
The results show that the three software tools, including the original model designed by the CSIRO, were inherently unreliable.
The star ratings system was rolled out nationally several years ago and recently extended to older houses.
The findings mean that in some cases houses that should be failing the energy efficiency test are being approved and built, while identical houses are going back to the drawing board for changes and costing their owners more time and money to get right.
It also means the stated objective of the federal government to cut greenhouse gas emissions in houses is in serious question.
Faulty software tools will have a greater impact from next year when the federal government’s national energy strategy requires all homes being sold or leased to be star-rated and for the rating to be disclosed.
Older dwellings, which will not achieve the five- or six-star minimum, may be punished financially by buyers and tenants.
The findings add weight to the concerns of energy efficiency experts that star ratings are a multi-billion-dollar debacle.
Peter Jones, chief economist of Master Builders Australia,
said yesterday: "We have independent expert evidence showing us this is a real concern and it needs to be brought to light and addressed.
"There are unacceptable differences between the star ratings produced by the software tools when assessing the same house.
"We are drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘Look, the research is overwhelming now; something must be done’, Mr Jones said.
The authorities need to come up with a solution so that consumers can be confident in the star ratings and the tools.
"As builders, we do not really care (what the tool is) but we think it is bad policy when it is not working properly."
Housing Industry Association senior executive director Kristin Tomkins said the association’s independent testing, which showed significant differences in energy ratings, including a variation of 3.2 stars for the same Brisbane house, were troubling and undermined the scheme’s credibility.
She said builders and home owners needed confidence in the mandatory energy efficiency programs that cost them time and money.
Industry sources called for an Australian Competition & Consumer Commission investigation and said some savvy energy assessors were "gaming" the star ratings and making a mockery of the scheme by switching software tools until one delivered the required result.
The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, which has recently joined the CSIRO in investigating problems with the gauges, has said it was "premature to say there is any significant impact on overall house ratings or compliance costs".
Source: The Australian newspaper